Continuing our journey in Northern Ireland: After a night at the Farset Hostel, we walked down as a group to the Forthspring Community Center which resides in the Springfield Road Methodist Church. This church is obviously Protestant and its was intentionally placed/kept standing on the Catholic side of the line of separation as a symbol the religious segregation can be broken.
We met in the minor room where Maura Moore and Johnston Price greeted us. They explained the people from Belfast in the room are a group of community members from both sides of the wall which meet to discuss the future of sectarian separation and how the community center can overcome the separation of sectarian groups. See that word “sectarian” meaning “of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect or sectarian”. This labels Roman Catholic and Protestant cultures as sects, not to be negative about their beliefs, but to convey the conflict in Northern Ireland hasn't really been about religious beliefs.
Johnston then sent us in groups back to the garden to discuss whether we would, or would not want to move to the opposite country from the one we live in. We structured the discussion around ten factors.
My group had three Americans or Yanks, including myself, and two women from Northern Ireland. I'll use initials, E and J to refer to the women from Northern Ireland, but rest assured, we got to know them over our stay.
The Americans had been in country only a few hours, but all three said they could see themselves living in Northern Ireland. One said he could live anywhere in the world and I said I would as long as I had the funds to visit back home.
From our Northern Ireland friends: E said she wouldn't want to live in the US and J said she'd like to take a long holiday there, but that's it.
With regards to poverty, both groups said their own country had a range of income or wealth and these depended on the area.
Both countries seem to have higher unemployment due to the recession, but E and J thought the unemployment in Northern Ireland (NI) is less than in the Republic of Ireland to the south. (I looked up later that the NI rate of unemployment between December and February of 2010 was 6.4%, down 0.5% from the previous quarter, but up from 5.9% for the previous year. It suggests that NI is below the rate in the UK, 8%, the Irish Republic, 13.8%, and the wider European Union, 9.5% (BBC News, 21 April 2010).)
Both E and J thought education was better in Northern Ireland. Student loans were smart although J said she started left school at 16 to make money. Students in Ireland don't have to repay their loans until they get a job that pays enough so they can afford to pay. There is even a child care benefit of 43 pounds per week per child so parents don't have to send their young children to substandard care.
Both countries appear to have social security income for senior citizens.
N. Ireland has free health care for all. The US does not have free universal health care, although we just went through a national debate about it and some features of it have passed and appear to be on the way.
With regards to crime, drug use is worsening in NI and gangs are starting to develoop. As “the troubles” have become less violent, regular crime has risen. One bad thing in Ireland is juveniles go to prison for minor crimes. There is no probation or flexibility. Also, even if you commit only a small crime as a juvenile your record follows you the rest or your life. You are excluded from many jobs, such as driving a taxi. The US has a terrible mix of drugs and guns in cities and drugs have spread to suburban and rural areas.
E and J said anti-social behavior among youth is spiking in NI. Teenagers text one another to agree to meet at a location to throw insults, stones, and bricks at the other respective side in a phenomenon called recreational rioting. We Americans said we've heard of this in America, but haven't heard of being confirmed in the Capital District or Glens Falls.
E and J told us they don't usually see much snow. The entire country was in the grip of ice for over a week this past winter and it was very unusual. We Americans agreed we have too much snow when it comes to moving it.
E and J said recreation is expensive in NI and there isn't much to do. We Americans agreed we have a lot of sports, sports facilities, and winter sports such as skiing.
For me the biggest surprise was E and J didn't want to leave Norther Ireland as it has seen so much strife and loss for more than forty years. But to the good, it shows people feel connected in NI and want it to improve.